Grace Trewe comes to York intending to spend as little time as possible sorting out her dead godmother’s affairs before moving on, the way she has always done before. Grace prides herself on her independence. She is a practical, sensible, self-reliant person, impatient with spirituality or mysticism and what she thinks of as wallowing in emotion. Having survived the Boxing Day tsunami, Grace knows how lucky she is to be alive. She looks forward, not back.
But in York Grace discovers that the past cannot always be ignored. Her godmother, Lucy, has been dabbling in the occult, and it seems that she has raised an unquiet spirit, Hawise, who lived, loved and died in York over 400 years earlier. Hawise died believing that she has failed her daughter, and the more Grace is drawn into her life in the Elizabethan city, the more parallels she finds with her own life. For Grace, too, has failed a child.
Is Grace possessed? Or is she suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Either way, she learns that she cannot move on until she has come to terms with the past.
Read an extract:
Over the city walls, the Minster bell is ringing the hour. Elizabeth gets reluctantly to her feet and brushes down her skirts. ‘We’d better go. Hawise, your cap is all crooked. Mistress Beckwith will skelp you if you go back looking like that!’
She will too. Our mistress has a kind heart, but a firm hand. I scramble up. My hair is dark and fine, and no matter how carefully I bind it, my cap is always slipping and sliding. I straighten it on my head. ‘Better?’
She studies me critically. ‘Better,’ she agrees and hands me my basket. The lettuce and parsley have already wilted in the afternoon sun, but the rosemary is stronger and its smell is a shimmer in the air. ‘Come on, we’ll be late.’
Hap follows with his skewed gait as we hurry along the lane, but as we turn the corner at Mr Frankland’s orchard, he stops with a whimper.
‘Hap?’ I look back at him in surprise.
Elizabeth grips my arm. ‘Hawise, look!’ She points round the corner to where an old woman, bent and buckled as a bow, is standing in the middle of the path, muttering to herself.
I suck in a breath of consternation and exchange a glance with Elizabeth. Mother Dent is a poor widow, a cunning woman by some accounts, but my sister Agnes told us once that she has heard Sybil Dent is a witch. She had a familiar, Agnes said, a cat she called after the Devil himself, and then she lowered her voice so that we shivered. ‘It sucks the blood from her cheek.’
Mistress Beckwith says that such stories are nonsense, but still, I falter, and instinctively I reach for Elizabeth’s hand.
‘Let’s go back,’ she whispers.
‘It will take too long. We’re late. Besides,’ I add valiantly, ‘she won’t hurt us. She is just an old woman.’
I call urgently to Hap, but he won’t come any closer to the widow, and in the end I have to pick him up. He whines as we edge past Sybil, mumbling ‘Good day to you.’
We are almost past when Sybil swings round and fixes us both with a fathomless gaze.
‘Take heed,’ she says, her voice old and cracked, and we hesitate. I can feel Hap trembling
in the crook of my arm.
‘Take heed of what?’ I ask more boldly than I feel.
Sybil’s eyes seem to look into us and through us. It is as if she sees something we cannot, and the hairs on the back of my neck lift. ‘Ware the iron,’ she says. ‘Ware the water.’
‘What does that mean?’ Elizabeth’s voice is high and thin, but the Widow Dent just turns away, hunching her shoulders.
‘Take heed,’ is all she will say.
I tug Elizabeth away. ‘Leave her,’ I say. ‘She knows not what she says.’
When we are past her, I put Hap down. We walk quickly away, and then faster and faster until we are running, running back to Monk Bar and the city, giggling with relief, and the breeze against our cheeks blows the widow’s warning from our minds.
The touch on my arm jarred me back to reality so abruptly that I gasped with fright. I felt sick and faint, as if I had fallen down a step in the dark.
‘Grace? Are you all right?’ Drew Dyer took his hand away, eyeing me warily. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.’
‘I’m … it’s…’
Desperately, I tried to pull myself together. I clutched at the chain around my neck, feeling the silver warm from my skin. Its braiding was reassuringly familiar beneath my fingertips. I was Grace Trewe, I remembered that straight away, but I had been that girl – Hawise, her friend had called her – too. She was still there, in my head. I could feel her frustration as she faded, unwilling to let me go.
I looked down, half expecting to see a little black dog under my arm. I was sure I could feel the warm weight of him, his shiver as we passed Widow Dent. But Hap had gone. I was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved top under my cardigan, not an apron over my kirtle, but I could still feel the linen frill at my neck, the tightness of the bodice laced over my red petticoat.
Cautiously, I looked around. This path was Shooter Lane. The patchwork of small enclosed fields and orchards was sealed now with tarmac, and houses and cars stood where once the wildflowers frothed in the hedgerows. When I reached out to touch the wall beside me again, the brick was rough and real beneath my fingertips.
‘Grace?’ said Drew again. He was watching me in concern. ‘You were just standing there as I came up behind you. Are you sure you’re OK?’
I shook my head to clear it. I’d had a peculiarly vivid hallucination, that was all. It had to have been. Clearly only moments had passed while I lay in the long grass with Hap pressed into my leg and my friend by my side.
‘No … No, I’m fine,’ I managed. I couldn’t tell Drew that in my mind I’d been another girl, in another time. He would think I was mad. I would think I was mad. ‘I just didn’t sleep very well, that’s all. And I’m still jet lagged.’ I even mustered a smile of sorts. ‘It’s not a good combination. I blanked out completely there for a moment.’
‘You’re very white. Perhaps you should go back and lie down?’
‘No!’ My recoil was instinctive. I didn’t want to go back there. ‘I mean … no, I’m OK, honestly,’ I said, even while a part of my mind was asking, back where?
To prove the point, I started walking again, but very gingerly. I found myself watching the pavement, afraid that it might disappear again. My mind was still jerking with the immediacy of the scene, and I could feel Hawise, clamouring to be let back in, a weird dragging sensation at the edges of my consciousness that made me think of the wave, and the inexorable swirl and suck of the water pulling me back, back, back …